Sputniko’s Menstruation Machine

I am all for Modern Art and think MoMa’s current exhibit, Talk to Me, on how our fast changing world is always in communication with us is brilliant.  As much as I am one of those who need to get out of the city every couple of weeks to recharge in nature, I love and value technology too.

My response to Ms. Magazine’s post about one of the pieces in this show, the Menstruation Machine, was a feeling in my belly much worse than your average period cramps.  The piece itself is extremely intelligently built, designed to dispense blood and stimulate the lower abdomen in a way that would feel something like menstrual cramping.  The artist, Sputniko, wants to allow cis men and anyone else who may not have periods to be able to experience menstruation and point out to all of us who are still bleeding for 3-7 days every month that this is an outdated and unnecessary part of being a woman.  “It’s 2011, so why are humans still menstruating?”

I am all for modern art and design but let’s not neglect the greatest designer there is, nature.  In case you missed Biology 101, some people are designed with an incredible ability and purpose to birth babies.  Even if you choose not to experience childbirth or motherhood directly this time around, there is a place where we need to remember and acknowledge the creative power that comes with that gift.  To quote one of the greatest midwives of our time, Ina May Gaskin, “There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ, they would brag about it. So should we.”  Sputniko has another piece called Child Producing Machine, a song for girls who would rather become a cyborg than to cope with menstruation pain.  “If I have to suffer with my biology – I’d rather be a Cyborg than a goddess.”

If I get really honest, the feelings coming up when reading this article (anger, sadness, grief) are my own internal response to the younger parts of myself that were out of sync with her cycles and saw menstruation as something to be controlled and embarrassing.  What I thought was ‘Menstrual Liberation’ was just a huge layer of denial and self-attack on my own femininity that did actually result in physical problems.  After being on the pill between the ages of 17 – 22, I did not get a period for one whole year.  I may have considered this a blessing in my teens but my intuition was developing and I felt that something wasn’t quite right.  I saw holistic nutritionists, acupuncturists, Naturopathic doctors, did loads of yoga and did not have a regular period until I experienced some intensive Ayurvedic medicine while traveling in India.

The journey back to my own cycle was transformational and taught me to appreciate my body’s signs and signals in a whole new way.  I would never wish to have my period taken away again nor is it something I feel everyone needs to experience just so menstruators can prove how victimized we are, suffering this awful tragedy every 28 days.  I think if men genuinely want to understand better what their girlfriends are going through that is sweet but the reality is, not every menstruator suffers each month.  Should we all have to experience impotence just to be more compassionate towards those who do?  If you haven’t read The Red Tent yet, it will open you up to the sacred tradition of your own moon cycle so you can appreciate its purpose and meaning and maybe even allow you to celebrate it!

I see the world in metaphors and if the earth is a symbol of the feminine, I think we’ve gone a bit too far in its suppression and destruction.  When we are able to value the power and mystery of the true feminine that does exist in all of us, men included, I think we will be on track in helping our planet restore herself.   What do you think?

-Sara M.

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  • LindsayDianne

    I’m with you. this rubs me totally the wrong way. 

  • Amy

    I get a sinking feeling in my stomach every time I come across something that diminishes or denies us our proper acceptance of female physiology. I am raising my daughter as best I can so that she will be happy and comfortable with the body she has been given.

  • “I am all for modern art and design but let’s not neglect the greatest
    designer there is, nature.  In case you missed Biology 101, women are
    designed with an incredible ability and purpose to birth babies.  Even
    if you choose not to experience childbirth or motherhood directly this
    time around, there is a place where we need to remember and acknowledge
    the creative power that comes with that gift.”

    I am all for freedom of expression, and I think the Menstrual Machine deserves just as much appreciation as a declaration that “women are designed with an incredible purpose to birth babies,” even if I happen to disagree strongly with the latter.  “Creative power” needn’t be restricted to procreative activities, and we evolved to use our brains in addition to our reproductive anatomy.  Menstrual activism is about acceptance and celebration of the variety of experiences that people have with menstruation, not about conformity to one particular experience.  Don’t dismiss the expressions of the experiences of others simply because they’re not the same as yours.

  • Lisa

    Like Sara, I am also troubled by the societal pressure to make periods go away. But I don’t believe that periods are a necessary or essential part of being a woman. The assertion that “women are designed with the ability and purpose to birth babies” doesn’t sit right with me either, since this isn’t something physiologically possible (or desirable) for all women and female-assigned people. And that’s nature, too.

    Supporting the right to make choices regarding our own bodies is something I feel really strongly about, which is why I don’t take issue with an individual’s informed choice to end their period (or NOT end it, for that matter). What I am concerned about is a culture that tells us that menstruation and bodies that menstruate are inherently dirty, wrong and in need of fixing.

    I hope we can all work on turning that around without turning on each other.

  • Adica_Arethusa

    This is a bit off topic, but your question of whether men should have to menstruate reminded me of something I read in a book while I was researching for a paper about whether the the Amazons of Greek Mythology actually existed (conclusion: probably, but not how the Greeks told it).

    In one part of the book, the author described (if I remember correctly) some kind of holy women or healers that were part of some cultures in central Eurasia a few thousand years B.C.  It was believed that only women could naturally do this because their menstrual bleeding allowed the spirits to enter their bodies each month, which gave them their healing powers.  Men could be part of this, but they had to dress like a woman, and every month they had to make themselves menstruate by cutting their genitals so they would bleed for a week every month so that the spirits could enter their body, too.  It’s an interesting parallel because in the B.C. instance, some men experienced “menstruation” because they wanted to gain some part of a woman’s powers, rather than a man experiencing it because some women want some sort of payback for men not menstruating naturally.

  • Qwerty

    Now, I think the music video is a bit… excessive.If the artist is *really* suffering that much every month, she is probably facing some health problems and should seek help.

    That being said, I don’t think of menstruation as a necessary part of me, but I don’t see the necessity of eliminating it either (unless, as I said, you are facing health problems). I think it’s unnecessary to take any kind of medication, if it’s not needed. Menstruation is not an illness, so taking hormones for 40 or more years just to avoid it sounds a bit crazy to me…

  • eleanor

    I would do anything to make my period go away. The pain is unimaginable. I am suffering, doctors are trying to help but so far… nothing. It turns out its just painful periods and they can’t do anything. The pain, blood, fainting, crying- nothing.

    To give you perspective, I have done martial arts, kimbo staff fighting and knife training- no wound or bruise or beating I have ever had hurts as much as my monthly cramps. I have had minor surgeries, without anesthetic. Doesn’t come close.

    I have lost a job, because my period chained me to the hot pad and the toilet- shaking and crying and bleeding.

    So no, I don’t think “body acceptance” is going to get me through this. There is no sacred tradition in biology, and when my cycle falls on a full moon I have to book the day off work. It doesn’t connect me to anything. I dread it. I hate it. I chains me to my biology, it makes me nothing more than a bleeding babymaker tied to my genetic legacy by chains of blood and pain.

    Anything to cure this and get me to back to school and out of the bleeding menstrual hut of my bathroom would be lovely.

    As humans we need to move past glorifying pain and suffering. Some women don’t even bleed, like my sister. Does she lack your magical female connection with the universe?

  • kira

    the author outlines the process of menstruation in a way that really does not sit right with me. I don’t believe that it’s a holy process, nor does it define an individual as a feminine or unfeminine. Yeah, it is* on a 30 day lunar cycle, but that doesn’t make it holy. It’s biology. It’s a reminder that the earth only ever regards you as a baby maker. Just because you embrace your period does not make you any more of a women than the rest of us.